Trucks and SUVs

Best 2-Row SUV: Subaru Outback

Cars, trucks, and crossovers just keep getting better and better, and while that means more good options for Canadian buyers, it doesn’t mean that all cars are equal – there are many vehicles that stand out by going above and beyond what’s expected. That’s what we’re looking for when we’re voting on winners for the Awards. Our jury of more than 20 expert automotive journalists has considered and evaluated hundreds of vehicles, including not just this year’s latest models, but any new vehicle currently on sale because the newest isn’t always the greatest.

Our finalists for the SUV two-row class (also called compact crossovers) are extremely popular today because of their versatility and capability. Our jury voted to shortlist the Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, Subaru Outback, Honda Passport, and Toyota RAV4. In this group, three are all-new models and two are excellent choices that were already on the market. We looked at 12 different criteria, from overall excellence to tech, innovation, performance, value, efficiency, safety, and more, and after the final round of voting, the 2020 Subaru Outback has been crowned as the Best 2-Row SUV.

You might be surprised to see the Outback given the nod as Best 2-Row SUV, seeing that many Canadians still consider the Outback a wagon, even though Subaru classifies it officially as an SUV. But Subaru has been paying attention, and it has been making the Outback bigger and better with each generation. Despite that, it has stayed true to its roots, and that’s what sets it apart in this class. It’s why it’s the 2-row SUV we’d confidently recommend to friends and family.

Sure, this newest model looks like the previous-generation one outside, but that’s because the designers know what their buyers want. Although the Outback is a handsome crossover, design is not high on the list of importance for our jury when evaluating this class. Our jury puts more weight on versatility, practicality, safety and value in this class.

Underneath and inside, the Outback is completely new – it has a new platform, new engines, and a new interior. It looks like a proper competitor for compact crossovers like the Toyota RAV4, but the spec sheet shows that it lines up more with the Honda Passport, which is a slightly larger “in-between” model. It offers up a massive 2,144L of cargo space that puts it near top of its segment, along with generous head and legroom front and rear that’s far more impressive than the spec sheet suggests. But it’s not just the space that’s impressive – though that is one of the most important criteria in this segment – it’s that Subaru has this much volume in a vehicle that weighs hundreds of kilos less than the competition. This innovation and engineering excellence, both key parts of our judging criteria, pays big dividends for just about every part of the Outback experience.

This is very evident at the gas pumps, where thanks to the 2.5L boxer-four that comes standard, Subaru offers an impressive 8.2 L/100 combined fuel economy but performance better than 182 hp in a big crossover would suggest. Get the 260-hp 2.4L turbo engine, and it gets even quicker, yet fuel economy doesn’t take a huge hit.

Subaru also hasn’t given into the trend of putting massive wheels and tires on everything in the name of sporty looks. The automaker knows its buyers might actually want to take this one down a dirt road, so it has reasonably sized wheels and meaty sidewalls that help cushion the ride on poor or non-existent roads. The Outback rides more like a car and less like a crossover or SUV, which means more comfort for everyone inside. The Outback is easy to drive, easy to park, and easy to relax in, and, while those are all important to our judges, it’s also fun to drive, which we value highly even in a crossover.

All of these positive attributes are helped by an impressive interior. The seats are some of the best around and sitting in them feels like settling into a trusty recliner. Higher trims get adjustable thigh support that helps make sure they fit drivers of all sizes, a feature sadly lacking in the rest of the class. You can get an Outback with twin 7.0-inch screens managing the climate control and infotainment, or you can get a massive 11.6-inch vertical tablet-like screen that has just the right number of physical buttons and controls moved to the touchscreen, which helps improve ergonomics. It all seems assembled exceptionally well for this price point, another factor our judges considered when evaluating, and the interior is loaded with materials that give this SUV an upscale look and feel.

Subaru has gone big on tech, an important factor in its win, with not just the usual lane guidance and radar cruise control features, but a unique new addition to the EyeSight safety suite that monitors you to make sure you’re watching the road. If drivers are not paying attention to the road ahead (maybe distracted by a cellphone or the passengers), and the Distraction Mitigation system sounds the alarm. This attention to safety and innovation helped bolster its score, especially in this family-friendly class. Also importantly, it delivers excellent value, starting from just more than $30,000, which prices it next to smaller, less well-equipped competitors.

When contributor Brendan McAleer first drove the new Subaru Outback, he said the SUV “stayed the course to please the faithful, and been improved with just enough tech and turbocharged thrust to tempt a few new buyers in the door.” McAleer also said it was a complete package, off-road and on, and for those reasons and more, the Subaru Outback truly deserves to be crowned as the Best 2-Row SUV.